The federal courts in New Mexico, which have struggled under heavy caseloads and a depleted bench, are on the verge of having a full complement of district court judges for the first time in several years.
The nominations of Albuquerque attorney Brenda Saiz and longtime federal prosecutor Fred J. Federici III could go to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for hearings in early September – providing they get the green light (actually a blue slip) from Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M.
That’s exactly what should happen, for the sake of the courts and the public they serve.
Both Saiz and Federici were nominated by President Donald Trump in May from a list of candidates approved by Udall and Heinrich. And both received “well qualified” rankings from the American Bar Association earlier this month – the highest rating possible by the ABA. The association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary assesses nominees on “integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.”
The two nominees would bring expertise and gravitas to the bench.
Saiz’s civil law practice concentrated on medical malpractice, trucking law and product liability issues. She also taught at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Federici worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 25 years as a prosecutor, head of the criminal division and chief of the office’s national security section.
The New Mexico district is allotted seven full-time district judges and now has five with the addition of Judge Kea Riggs in December.
In an interview last year, Chief Judge William P. Johnson and Judge Martha Vázquez talked about the crushing caseload that included more than 900 cases for each of the four sitting judges at the time. Judges from other districts were being called in to help.
“We’re drowning,” Vázquez said.
The situation has improved with the confirmation of Judge Riggs, but that doesn’t mean the problem has been fixed.
“Given this district’s heavy caseload, my colleagues and I are hopeful that Sens. Udall and Heinrich will allow these two nominees to have their confirmation hearings and to hopefully join the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico,” Johnson said last week.
The court here, one of the nation’s busiest, has been shorthanded for too long. The nominees have been thoroughly vetted, and our senators should let them move to the committee and full Senate confirmation hearings.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.